An Era Of National Renaissance And Reformation Essay

An Era Of National Renaissance And Reformation Essay

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In an era of national renaissance and reformation, the United States was evolving into a country that respected the value and potential of the individual. Activism spread like wildfire as citizens fought for rights to freedom and equality for everyone. But while Americans viewed reform as a team-effort, a new philosophy was emerging that introduced a different perspective. Transcendentalism was founded in 1836 by a group of like-minded thinkers who saw the individual’s capacity to improve and transcend beyond the customs of society; among this collection of intellectuals were authors such as Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman; but at the center of it all was “the prophet of self-reliance and individualism,” Ralph Waldo Emerson (“Emerson and the Transcendentalists” 60; Park 491). Emerson believed that, in order for their generation to successfully reform, Americans needed to stop idolizing past generations as prototypical examples to follow, since "imitation cannot go above its model" (qtd. in Park 287). Emerson was notoriously iconoclastic; he was skeptical of traditions and customs, which he claimed held people back from achieving their true potential. Rather than participating in mass organizations, he concentrated his reform on the individual, whom he thought to be “a locus so fundamental that any change in it will also change the structure of society as a whole” (Garvey xii). In other words, according to Emerson, to reform society, individuals must first reform themselves. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Transcendentalist believes are evident in his essay, “Self- Reliance,” as he describes characteristics of the ideal, self-relying individual, while also addressing the forces that work to undermine them.
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...hilosophies appear to be ahead of his generation, for they did not accept his ideas with open arms or open minds initially. He was generally condemned and criticized by society for his rebellious perspectives. Emerson was not hindered by the petty opinions of others, his reputation as an author, or the acceptance of his views; he never ceased to speak his mind, no matter the circumstance. He was independent, fearless, and courageous. Emerson’s essay, “Self-Reliance,” is notorious for its call for individual reform in a time of national renaissance. He directly addresses his reader, stressing the importance of individualism by incorporating his Transcendentalist beliefs. Throughout his essay, the author defines the ideal individual by outlining the characteristic traits that promote self-reliance and individualism in a world of conformity, consistency, and commonality.

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